Counting What Counts

By Vicki Tolar Burton

Not everything that counts can be counted.
Not everything that can be counted counts.
-William Bruce Cameron

Higher education is in love with numbers, with data, with analytics. The prevailing view seems to be that
if we just look at the right numbers, view them as levers of a sort, we can improve the numbers that
“really count”: first year retention and six-year graduation rates. WIC’s relation to graduation rate: 100%
of OSU graduates complete a Writing Intensive Course in their major. Any numbers that interfere, like
too few seats in WIC courses, or too many students for robust writing feedback, need consideration.

Though WIC is a program about words and writing, there are certain numbers that count, and they have become more accessible with the advent of CORE, Google Analytics, and some other tools. Numbers matter in the essential WIC course requirements:

  • Class size: Originally limited to 20 (c. 1993), now limited to 25. Rationale: Limiting class size enables instructors to give copious, meaningful feedback on student writing before students revise and polish. Twenty-five students per section aligns with national standards for Writing Intensive classes. During Fall term 2017, 2445 students in Writing Intensive courses wrote approximately 12,225,000 words!
  • Word count: WIC courses require students to write at least one paper of 2000 words, which is revised after feedback. Rationale: Many OSU students are rarely asked to write a paper longer than three pages (NSSE 2010). Every college graduate should demonstrate the ability to compose and sustain an argument in their major in an 8 to 10 page paper, writing using the conventions of the field. Students also write 1000 words of informal, minimally-graded writing
    to learn content and critical thinking.

In this issue of Teaching with Writing, we look at numbers that help us understand and improve the WIC program. We see numbers of online WIC courses rising, for example. In “WIC by the Numbers” Mohana Das looks at class size and modes of delivery across colleges.

Using Google Analytics on the WIC website revealed some surprising numbers: The WIC website pages with the most hits are within the Microbiology Writing Guide! That guide gets hits that far exceed the number of Microbiology students at OSU. In “Microbiology Writing Guide’s Greatest Hits” Ruth Sylvester investigates this phenomenon. What can we learn from the MB guide to improve our other writing guides?

And don’t forget the WIC Culture of Writing Awards, with nominations opening at the start of spring term. See the article in this issue for details. In 2017, 22 units honored their top writer or capstone team of writers with a WIC award. Please consider recognizing a student writer in your major this spring! Information on the process is in this issue.

Even with interesting numbers to play with, we know that much of the benefit of the WIC program for students happens in classrooms, in collaboration, and in solitary writing—all things that resist simple counting. As sociologist William Bruce Cameron (and, later, songwriter Billy Bragg) said, “Not everything that counts can be counted.” Happy end of winter term! I think I can see spring is just over the horizon.

Now that counts.


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